January 16, 2020
By J. Scott Rupp
The M1 Garand is perhaps the most beloved battle rifle ever fielded by the United States. Developed by John Garand, it was the epitome of a service rifle: hard-hitting and dependable in all manner of hostile environments. But it wasn’t perfect, and toward the end of World War II, some in the Army who were serving in the Pacific theater began looking for a shorter version for jungle combat.
Who could blame them? With its 24-inch barrel the Garand could hardly be called handy in close quarters. They wanted a version of the M1 with an 18-inch barrel, and as the story goes, more than 100 of these were produced by armorers in the Pacific, with a few sent to the States for testing and trials.
This gun, the T26, was never adopted and probably never fielded. Somewhere along the line it got the moniker “Tanker” hung on it—even though the original intention had nothing to do with crews serving in tanks. Regardless, you gotta admit it wasn’t a half-bad idea, and Springfield Armory is paying tribute to the effort with its new M1A Tanker.
Sure, Springfield’s Tanker is the 7.62 NATO/magazine-fed M1A and not the .30-06/clip-fed Garand, but the concept is the same. And it makes sense for Springfield, which has long been in the business of producing shortened M1As with its SOCOM lineup of carbine-length guns based on the M1A action.
I like the other SOCOMs just fine, but as a hidebound traditionalist, the Tanker with its military-style walnut stock is more to my taste. It’s not totally GI, though. Springfield was smart enough to throw in some user-friendly features to appeal to modern rifle shooters.
Chief among these is the front sight. Instead of a plain ol’ post, the Tanker features an XS Sights post with a white stripe and a tritium insert. And the 16.25-inch barrel also has a ported muzzle, the same design you’ll find on the other SOCOMs. It incorporates two matching six/five/six rows of small ports at the 11- and one-o’clock positions.
Unlike its stablemates, though, there’s no easy way to mount an optic. Springfield does produce an excellent scope mount—the 4th generation aluminum mount for an additional $155—but there’s no top Picatinny rail section atop the Tanker.
The rear sight is the standard T105E1, and mine required only a minor reposition to get it to “mechanical zero” where the index mark on the sight body is laterally centered on the index marks on the receiver. Do this by holding the elevation knob while turning out the screw on the windage knob until the latter is free to move. Then simply click the windage knob left or right to align it.
It’s an article of faith with this sight system that the next procedure is to move the front sight in its dovetail to correct for windage. The front sight is held in place by a setscrew, one requiring a 7/64 Allen wrench. You’re better off with a single wrench than with a multi-wrench folder or a bit in a driver handle because there’s not a lot of clearance.
If you read the printed material that comes with the Tanker, you’ll see that moving the sight 0.008 inch moves point of impact one inch at 100 yards. Ahh, but that’s for an M1A with a standard-length barrel. With the shorter Tanker barrel, according to my calculations, you need to move the sight 0.006 inch to shift your group left or right by an inch at 100 yards. Don’t forget to retighten the front-sight screw.
Do this on a calm day and you now have your no-wind zero. If you retighten the windage screw so the knob doesn’t turn, you simply hold off for wind.
Now, it’s been nearly 40 years since I pulled on a heavy shooting coat, sprayed Firm Grip on a shooting mat and competed at Camp Perry’s Highpower National Matches with an M1A—and I did it only once—but I didn’t remember going through all this front-sight business. So I asked Vince Greiner, my old Army roommate and four-time civilian service rifle national champion, about how he handled wind.
“I always used the knobs,” he said. And that makes more sense to me if your goal is to shoot Xs out to 600 yards. But the “set it and forget it” approach outlined in the literature—basically right out of the Army M14 technical manual, which also comes in the case with the Tanker—certainly works for a short-barreled fun/defense gun like the Tanker.
The elevation knob works in one-m.o.a. increments and is marked 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 11, with an un-numbered mark between each number. To zero elevation, run the sight all the way down, come up eight or so clicks and shoot a group at your zero distance—100 yards being typical.
Adjust as necessary, and once the elevation is where you want it, turn the elevation knob counterclockwise, counting clicks as you go. When you hit bottom, you know how many clicks up it takes to be zeroed at that particular yardage. Repeat as necessary for other desired distances.
Sounds antiquated, but it works. Competition shooters will run their M1A sights all the way down and then dial them up for each yard line—200, 300 and 600 for standard courses of fire.
If you want the numbered marks on the elevation knob to mean something—say you want the “2” to be your 200-yard zero—dial in your 200-yard zero, hold the knob tight and loosen the elevation knob screw entirely. Move the knob to the “2” and tighten.
The Tanker’s sights are excellent, but my vision ain’t what it used to be, and it’s incredibly difficult for me to maintain a precise, consistent six-o’clock hold. I didn’t win any trophies at Camp Perry more than three decades ago when my eyes were relatively good, and I surely couldn’t today.
While the 50-yard five-shot averages I got from the bench are not great, I had enough individual good groups—under 1.5 inches—to know the rifle is capable of far better accuracy in hands other than mine. When I was able to find the sweet spot in my bifocals and maintain a consistent aiming point, the rifle shot quite well.
Even so, this isn’t a National Match gun. It’s a fun gun and a more-than-capable defensive gun. As for the latter, the combination of the white stripe and the tritium insert makes the front sight easy to pick up in most any light condition.
For an off-the-rack M1A, the Tanker has a great trigger, especially considering how ancient the design is. I’m partial to two-stage triggers in the first place, and the one on my sample broke right at 4.5 pounds and was decently consistent. About three of those pounds are taken up in the first stage, so there’s only a little over a pound left to go to break the shot.
I certainly didn’t have any issues with the trigger at the bench, but where it really shines is in position shooting. I burned about 100 rounds from offhand, prone, sitting and kneeling at 100 yards. Shots broke cleanly, and I was able to shoot grapefruit-size groups from prone and volleyball-size groups from sitting and kneeling at 100 yards. I also found the sights a whole lot easier to use when taking a center-mass hold instead of six o’clock.
You’d think a short .308 like this would be a handful. It’s not. Yes, the ports that do such a marvelous job of taming recoil would seriously box your ears if you fired the Tanker without hearing protection. In fact, you might even consider doubling up (plugs under muffs) if you’re shooting at a covered range. But in field shooting, the porting makes the rifle not only controllable but also comfortable. Even from standing—the position most susceptible to recoil forces—the gun came back on target quickly.
Some of this is due to its weight. Despite the shorter barrel, the gun still weighs nearly nine pounds. The M14/M1A was a heavy gun to begin with, which is a big reason why the United States military went looking for a replacement for it in the early days of Vietnam.
While a simple design, the components are heavy, which you can see once you field-strip it. To disassemble, place the rifle, sights down, on a flat surface and pull the rear of the trigger guard toward the butt and up. Then lift out the trigger group.
Next, separate the barrel group from the stock. Here I discovered a slight gouge in the right side of the stock channel, possibly caused by the removal process, although I didn’t feel any unusual resistance when I pulled the groups apart.
With the barrel group upside down, compress the recoil spring toward the muzzle with one hand to relieve tension on the connector lock. You’ll see a pin bearing against the recoil spring guide. Just put a fingernail behind it and slide it toward you.
Maintain control of the spring and its guide and lift it out. Springfield recommends the use of safety glasses for this step, and I think that’s a good idea every time you’re working on any parts that are under spring tension.
To remove the operating rod, pull back on the handle until the rod’s guide lug aligns with the cutout in the guide, then pull out and up. It’s a little tricky, but it’s one of those deals where the first time you do it, as you’re wrestling with it and wonder whether you’re doing it correctly, the part suddenly comes out. Remove the bolt out toward the chamber, giving it a slight twist as you pull.
No further disassembly is recommended. Reassembly is relatively easy, although at first I struggled with replacing the operating rod. The trick is you want the rod to enter the rod guide just slightly, then position the op rod hump over the bolt roller and voilà—it all just goes together.
Like I said, you’ll see it’s a robust system, and the Tanker proved to be as reliable as every M1A I’ve ever fired. At one point I mixed a number of loads in the 10-round Parkerized magazine—from the 123-grain Lapuas to the 168-grain Winchesters—and fired them as quickly as I could. There were no malfunctions, and that was the case throughout accuracy testing and position firing.
The stock on this particular sample is a surprisingly handsome piece of walnut, with nice figuring on the butt. It’s oil-finished as befits a traditional military rifle.
The stock features the hinged buttplate from the M14. When the military switched from the M1 to the M14, originally it was thought the latter rifle would supplant not only the M1 Garand but also the M1 Carbine, the Browning Automatic Rifle and M3 submachine gun. As such, it was a select-fire weapon, but reportedly few of these were actually issued because the M14 was a real handful in full-auto mode.
Anyway, swinging up the hinged buttplate and placing it atop the shoulder was to supposed to provide additional control in full auto. Swinging it up also reveals a hinged-lid compartment designed to contain cleaning kits and chemicals. Opening the compartment on my sample required a bit of force with a non-marring tool.
The stock also features sling swivel assemblies at the toe of the stock and out near the front of the fore-end. The one at the toe is fixed; the one at the fore-end moves stiffly in its fixture and will likely loosen up with use. I wish I’d had a traditional military sling to use with the rifle, but a simple nylon web sling worked nicely.
Other features that will be familiar to M1A fans include the safety—which moves into the trigger guard on Safe—the paddle magazine release behind the magazine well and the bolt lock on the left side. If you’re not familiar with this design, you’ll need to learn the trick of inserting the magazine at an angle, front lip of the mag up and in first before rocking it backward into place.
I really enjoyed working with this rifle—from the satisfying “clack!” you hear when you yank back on the op rod and let it fly to chamber a round, to the sweet scent of the oil-finished stock, to the authoritative feel you get when you squeeze off a round.
And it checks a lot of boxes. It has all the characteristics you’d want in a head for the hills gun: great handling, plenty of power and sufficient accuracy to get nearly any job done. It’s fun to shoot. Or it could simply be a nice addition to your gun collection because of its interesting history as the “gun that never was.”
Springfield M1A Tanker Specs
- Type: Gas-operated semiauto centerfire
- Caliber: .308 Win.
- Capacity: 10-round Parkerized magazine supplied
- Barrel: 16.25 in., carbon steel, 6-groove, 1:11 twist
- Overall Length: 37.25 in.
- Weight: 8.75 lb.
- Stock: Oil-finished walnut
- Sights: Serrated-face adjustable ghost ring rear, 0.135 in. aperture; 0.125 in. XS post w/white stripe and tritium insert
- Trigger: Two stage, 4.5 lb. pull (measured)
- Safety: Two-position blade
- Price: $1,987
- Manufacturer: Springfield Armory, springfield-armory.com